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Official Review by Anluan Hennigan, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Hawthorns has been the home of West Bromwich Albion since 1900, the club having been founded 22 years earlier by the workers of George Salter's spring works. An original member of the Football League, it is steeped in the tradition of English football.
The club has emerged from the financial destitution and acrimony of the 1990s to become a pall-bearer of aesthetically pleasing Premier League football. The replacement of the Rainbow Stand by the East Stand in 2001 represents the most recent development of the ground, making it all-seater and bringing it into line with the majority of modern stadia.
Plans have long been mooted for further development and an increase in capacity. They have been stymied however by the club's intermittent relationship with England's top division. West Brom have earned a reputation as a "yo-yo" club, having gone through a number of promotions and relegations in the last decade.
However, they have stayed within their means, bought players efficiently and smartly and maintained a marvellous footballing philosophy. The 2010-11 season looks like it might finally be a vindication of that strategy with West Brom establishing themselves firmly in the Premier League.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Unfortunately, as is the case with many Premier League grounds, quality is not something high on the agenda. The normal platter of beer, hot drinks, pies and hot dogs is on offer. If you want to enamour yourself with the area a little more, the chicken balti pie is perhaps your best bet, this being a delicacy which is synonymous with the West Midlands.
For a ground that is so intoxicated by English football's great heritage, it is juxtaposed with a decidedly characterless area, situated as it is just off a motorway in a rather industrial part of town. It lacks the intimacy of some of the best Premier League grounds, so much so that you forget where you are at times. Once inside, the hubbub rarely rises above friendly. Away fans are placed in the Smethwick End, which is also shared with Baggies fans. This allows for some vociferous if altogether good-natured banter throughout the match. The pervading feeling is one of contentment. This is a club that has grown used to minor successes and anything else currently looks like a pipe dream.
There is little to offer in terms of local amenities. Once you have indulged in some pre-match food and drink all that is left is to buy a programme (£3), ramble around the official shop and make your way to your seat. Suffice to say it's not a place you should feel determined about getting to early.
Outside the ground, the Desi Junction is almost universally recommended. Ten minutes walk away; it offers a wide selection of Indian food. A main course and drink shouldn't set you back more than £9. And of course, there is the ubiquitous McDonald's directly opposite the ground if you cannot resist the lure of those golden arches.
If you just want to have a drink and enjoy a little sport before the game, The Vine is the place for visiting supporters, offering an amiable atmosphere and like-minded clientele. It is a 20 minute walk away, but the journey is worthwhile when you bear in mind the yawning queues that will greet you inside the ground and the fact that you can't take your refreshments into the stadium itself.
The fans are a fine bunch, affable and offering friendly banter throughout. Being one of the smaller top-flight grounds, the closeness of both sets of fans is refreshing without ever having a threatening feel. At the very biggest grounds, away fans can find themselves remote and sat up in the gods. What it misses however is the raucousness that leaves the hairs on your neck standing up.
This is without doubt The Hawthorns greatest asset. If you are travelling by car, leave the M5 at junction 1 and take the sign for the A41 East. This will take you right up to the stadium. Parking should not be a problem, with many temporary private car parks offering a space for £5-£10.
The public transport links are also excellent. Birmingham is the closest major city and from there, you can take the metro service from Snow Hill station to The Hawthorns which is an 8 minute journey. A return ticket should be no more than £2.40. The stadium is only another 5 minute walk. When leaving however, prepare to get in touch with your inner Darwin. The rush for the return service is merciless, many fans deciding to leave before the match is over to get ahead. It is not uncommon to wait for up to an hour before you can hop on.
When planning your journey, the Network West Midlands and National Rail are invaluable resources where you can decide your route, check timetables and view prices.
One caveat would be the problems away fans have experienced in recent times. The Smethwick End's concourse is regarded as cramped and unsuitable for the volume of fans it services. Furthermore, the seating in the stand itself is also cramped. If you are of the long-legged variety, be prepared to stand for long periods.
West Brom operates a three-tier system of ticket pricing which means there is the opportunity for good value football if you set your sites a little low. Category B games cost £25 for adults while students and senior citizens can get in for only £15. Bearing in mind that West Brom play some of the most attractive football in the division, it is worth going to see them alone, even if the opposition are not so attractive.
However, the top two categories are a touch extortionate in comparison to other local Premier League clubs such as Birmingham City. You will need £42 to watch the category A+ sides (Liverpool, Manchester United, Aston Villa) while Category A sides (including Arsenal, West Ham and Everton) stand at only £2 less than that.
A big screen is offered next to the Smethwick End which offers match action and statistics throughout - excellent if you avert your eyes from the game at the wrong moment. The official club shop is always worth a visit. Stadium tours are offered intermittently during the year, dates of which are updated on the official website.
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